In October 2015 the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that a new approach to the two-year-old Flat Novice and Maiden race programme would be trialled in the first half of the 2016 Flat season.
The trial, which was the result of extensive consultation with trainers, was designed to provide an improved programme and incentive for winners to run more often, and to reduce the number of small-field races. It emanated from a long-held concern that two-year-olds who win in the early part of the season, prior to the introduction of nursery handicaps, have very few opportunities to assist them along the path of development after an initial early season success.
The trial saw the significant majority of Maiden races (c. 85% or around 175 races) converted to Novice contests between the start of the Flat Turf season and the beginning of July when Nursery Handicaps commence. Following the conclusion of this period, the BHA has today published the results of this trial, which indicate that the objectives of the trial have been met.
In terms of the objective to incentivise winners to run more often, in 2016 75 previous winners ran again, compared to 35 in 2015 – an increase of 53%.
|Previous 2yo winners running||75||35|
|Previous 2yo winners winning||20||8|
A risk identified with the trial was that an unduly high number of winners would come out and win again, or have a deterrent effect on opponents taking them on, with a subsequent impact on competitiveness and field sizes. However, such concerns were not realised. 20 of the 75, or 27% of winning two-year-olds were successful on their next appearance, which is comparable to the 23% in 2015. Moreover, the average Starting Price of both the favourite and the winner was noticeably increased across both Maiden and Novice races, thus demonstrating increased competitiveness. In addition, the number of individual winning horses did not decline since last year with the addition of 14 races to the programme offsetting the fact that 12 more horses won twice.
|Avg SP of Fav||2.47||2.83||2.53||2.08||2.75||2.70|
|Avg SP of Winner||6.62||9.65||7.12||3.93||6.94||6.75|
The trial also had an impact on the Plus 10 bonus scheme, which allows for qualified horses to win an unlimited number of £10,000 bonuses. In total, seven Plus 10 horses won a second bonus between the start of the two-year-old Flat season and the completion of the trial, compared with five over the same time period in 2015.
The data was also promising in terms of field size numbers. Average field sizes in Novice races increased from 5.08 to 7.84, while the proportion of Novice races with fewer than six runners decreased markedly from 62% to 15% and the proportion of races achieving eight or more runners increased from 15% to 53%.
Overall field sizes across all two-year-old races was marginally down from 8.33 to 8.05, but there were 14 more races run this year, with the result that there was an increase of 56 runs in total (+3.27%).
|Average field size||7.84||9.14||8.05||5.08||8.54||8.33|
Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer for the BHA, said:
“We’re encouraged by how the trial has performed in its first year and we plan to repeat it during the same period in 2017. Looking back over recent years, there was a clear consensus amongst horsemen that the two-year-old programme did not support progression for those juveniles that won in the early part of the season. The fact that in 2016, under the new system, we have seen 40 extra horses who won in the first half of the season reappear in another race provides a clear indication that progress has been made.
“It was important that this step forward was achieved without a reduction in the competitiveness of two-year-old races and the statistics show that, on the whole, the races worked well, with more races attracting at least eight runners and the average starting price of the favourite lengthening in both maiden and novice races.
“It is early stages yet and large-scale changes such as this should always be given time to bed in before any conclusions are made, so we will continue to monitor the performance of these races in future years and, if necessary, make any changes, in communication with our stakeholders. The early signs, however, are promising.”
Rupert Arnold, Chief Executive of the National Trainers Federation, added:
“There was a divergence of opinion amongst trainers about the conversion of such a large proportion of flat maiden races to novice races for the first three months of the season. Now the races have been run there is a wide consensus that the new system has worked well. There had been doubts that the additional opportunities for winners would be taken up but it’s good to see more winners have run again. Getting the penalties right was always going to be a “best guess” but the strike rate of previous winners suggests the penalty structure is about right and the programme dovetails with the introduction of nurseries in July. It has been a good start with the chance to improve it further with some minor tweaks.”
Ralph Beckett, Trainer, said:
“I expressed strong views about this proposal when we were consulted by the BHA and when they later published the proposal. I was deeply sceptical as to whether it would work out, but I am delighted to have been proven wrong, and that the trial has been successful. My biggest concern was that there would be a reduction in the number of individual winners, as the same horses would come out and hoover up multiple races, but it hasn’t panned out that way at all. I am wholly supportive of its continuation in its present form.”
Notes to Editors:
1. In general terms, the Novice races contained a 6lb or 7lb penalty for each race won, with 4lb and 3lb for winners of Auction restricted races running in Open company.
2. The initial announcement regarding the alteration to the programme can be found here: https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/bha-to-trial-new-approach-to-flat-novice-and-maiden-race-programme-for-two-year-olds/